A company town hall might be one of the most powerful communication channels in your arsenal. But they’re also one of the hardest to get right. In this blog, I’m going to offer tips to help you avoid town hall disasters and put on an all-hands meeting that gets results.
What’s the Point of a Company Town Hall?
Company town hall meetings (also called an all-hands meeting) are a valuable internal communications tool. They provide a valuable platform for executive leadership to directly engage with employees. These gatherings are not just about sharing updates and announcements—they’re a vital means of fostering transparency, building trust, and aligning the entire workforce around the organization’s goals.
When done right, company town halls are a powerful tool for nurturing a sense of community. They allow leadership to demonstrate that they are approachable, willing to listen to feedback, and committed to addressing concerns. Moreover, these meetings reinforce a shared company culture and vision by celebrating achievements, acknowledging milestones, and highlighting the contributions of individuals and teams.
The point of a company town hall isn’t just to relay information—it’s to foster a deeper connection between leadership and the workforce, building a sense of unity, engagement, and shared purpose.
However, to successfully achieve these outcomes, it’s essential to approach town halls with careful planning, strategic execution, and a genuine commitment to open communication. By mastering the art of hosting effective town hall meetings, you can create an environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and well-informed, contributing to the overall success of your business.
Town Hall Meeting Disasters
Despite all the promise of what a company town hall could be, they often fall short. I’d even go so far as to say they can be disastrous.
From personal experience and anecdotes from my team and other internal comms professionals, I’ve seen a lot go wrong at all-hands meetings. Here’s just a sample of what we’ve seen:
- The CEO and/or executive team being late (late to schedule the meeting, late to arrive, all kinds of late!).
- No deck or agenda prepared in advance or checked for errors.
- A CEO hung up the phone on all dialed in employees (including all frontline teams) when the beeps of people joining the call annoyed them.
- Leaving out a chunk of people on the call so they don’t feel like the meeting was for them.
- Never using the all-hands meeting to address the elephant in the room, creating a toxic positivity vibe.
I’m sure seeing that list, you’ve experienced some of the same things. You probably have your own story or two about what you’ve seen go terribly wrong at down halls.
And here’s the thing: town hall meetings are hard to get right. Even with the best of intentions and strategic planning from the internal communications team, things can go sideways. I’ve helped run some of the town halls where disaster has struck. I’ve also just been a member of the audience wondering what the heck is happening?!
Why These Stories are “Disasters”
So, why do I call these seemingly little things disasters? Because there is a huge ripple effect when we miss the mark on these meetings.
Put yourself in the shoes of your employees. They’ve taken a large chunk of time out of their workday to attend your meeting virtually or in person. They probably have questions about the stability of the business and how external factors (like recession, mass layoffs, etc.) might impact them. The company town hall might be the only time they see the executive leadership team.
And then the C-Suite can’t even bother to show up on time.
Or they get hung up on.
Their segment of the business is brushed over…again.
I think we all can relate to that sinking feeling. It’s not good.
When our leaders don’t take town halls as seriously as the internal comms team does, they hit all the wrong notes, destroy trust, and weaken the confidence their employees have in the company.
These meetings are so much more than a formal gathering to review fiscal results from the quarter before. This is your chance to inspire. To get everyone rowing in the same direction. To excite your teams and motivate them.
And far too many companies completely waste that opportunity…or worse, they don’t even realize they’re botching it.
How to Run an Effective Town Hall
Because so much can go wrong, running an effective company town hall requires thorough preparation and coordination. These actionable steps can ensure that your town hall meetings are well-organized, engaging, and aligned with your business goals.
Set Clear Objectives and Plan Ahead
Before you even consider putting together a plan or deck for your town hall, you have to define your goals.
What do you want to achieve with this meeting? What should employees take away? Are there any issues or bottlenecks you have to address openly and honestly?
Whether it’s sharing important company updates, addressing employee concerns, or fostering a sense of unity, having clear goals will guide your planning and keep the agenda focused.
Once you’ve established your goals, you’ll be able to start planning the content and structure of the meeting well in advance. This includes deciding on key messages, selecting presenters, and outlining the agenda.
Craft a Well-Structured Agenda and Proofed Deck
If your leadership team shows up to an all-hands meeting unprepared, it’s going to be painfully obvious. And that sends a message doesn’t it? It tells employees that this meeting wasn’t that important to the leadership team.
That’s why a well-structured agenda is the backbone of a successful town hall.
An agenda helps maintain focus, allocate time efficiently, and ensure all relevant topics are covered.
To help keep everyone on track and keep your audience engaged, you’ll need to prepare a well-designed and error-free slide deck. Like any other communication you send, it has to be thoroughly reviewed and proofread by a few stakeholders to avoid any mistakes during the presentation.
Curate Meaningful Content
Avoid the trap of filling your town hall with “fluff.” Random videos that were thrown together, for example, might not pack the punch you want them to if you haven’t aligned them with your goals and took the time to consider how employees might perceive the content.
For instance, if you just went through layoffs and your employees are feeling overworked now, it might not be the best time for HR to share a “promotional” video about how awesome the company is. If employees aren’t feeling the love, just watching a video about other employees who are enjoying working at the company isn’t going to make things better.
That’s why every piece of content you share should contribute to your meeting’s objectives. Focus on meaningful updates, strategic insights, and inspiring stories that resonate with your audience and meet them where they’re at.
Engage Employees Beforehand
Company town halls are a big deal. Too often, they’re saved for when companies have bad news to announce, so your employees might be a little triggered by an out of the blue town hall invite.
I was laid off during a town hall meeting once. Now, every time I get a random invite to an all-hands meeting I think “this is it.”
Many of your employees might feel that way based on previous experiences, even if your company has never done that.
That’s why it’s important to pick a cadence and stick to it. Don’t make town halls seem like random meetings where you’re going to announce something terrible. Make them a regular part of how you do business and how you keep everyone feeling aligned and in the loop.
And having this cadence set means you have time to send out invites well in advance along with the meeting agenda. This also gives you time to ask employees to submit their questions ahead of time. This not only gives you valuable insights into employee concerns but also sets expectations for the meeting.
By involving employees in the planning process, you’ll create a sense of ownership and participation.
Perform a Technical Dry-Run
Technical glitches can disrupt the flow of your town hall and detract from the message.
Especially if you’re hosting an in-person town hall where you have A/V and microphones and a projector for slides and videos, you have to do a dry-run. But even if you host fully remote town hall meetings, it’s helpful to test out the flow for the day of. This helps you run through when everyone should join the meeting, make sure you can record, and make sure everyone knows their role the day of.
Conducting a thorough technical dry-run ensures that remote participants can join seamlessly and that any presentation tools are working as intended. This dry-run minimizes the chances of unexpected technical issues during the live meeting.
Coach Presenters for Clarity
Even the most senior executives can benefit from presentation coaching. And practice.
Work closely with presenters, including C-suite leaders, to ensure their content aligns with the meeting’s objectives and flows smoothly. Encourage them to stay focused, avoid rambling, and stick to key points. Providing presentation tips and practicing with them can boost their confidence and enhance the overall delivery.
Company Town Hall FAQs
How you choose to approach your company town hall strategy is up to you and the needs of your business. But here are a few common questions and advice for getting the basics right.
How Often Should a Company Have a Town Hall?
The frequency of your company’s town hall meetings depends on the pace of change within your company, the nature of your industry, and the needs of your employees.
In general, town halls should be held regularly enough to keep employees informed and engaged but not so frequently that they lose their impact. A common interval is quarterly, allowing you to provide updates on a regular basis without overwhelming your workforce.
However, if your industry is fast-paced or your business is undergoing significant changes, you might consider monthly or bi-monthly town halls to ensure timely communication.
Whatever cadence you choose, make it consistent. And if you’re going to have a change in the schedule, communicate that to your employees and include why you’re going off-cadence so they aren’t left to wonder or worry.
How Long Should an All-Hands Meeting Last?
The optimal duration of a town hall meeting varies based on the complexity of the content and the attention span of your audience. Aim for a duration that allows you to cover essential topics without causing disengagement.
Generally, a town hall meeting should last around 60 minutes. But time for questions should be included in the total time. This amount of time should give you plenty of time to provide updates, address key concerns, and allow time for Q&A.
Remember that shorter, focused meetings are often more effective than lengthy ones that risk losing attendees’ attention.
What Should You Cover at a Town Hall?
The content covered in a town hall meeting should be directly aligned with your objectives for the meeting. While the agenda can vary, here are some common topics to consider:
- Company updates. Share financial performance, strategic initiatives, and major accomplishments.
- Employee recognition. You should always spend some time highlighting outstanding contributions and celebrating achievements.
- Q&A. Address pre-submitted questions from employees and encourage real-time inquiries.
- Roadmap and strategy. Outline the organization’s future plans and direction.
The key is to strike a balance between providing essential updates and making the meeting engaging.
Who Should Attend a Town Hall?
In most cases, town hall meetings are designed for all employees, regardless of their role or department. Including a diverse audience ensures that everyone receives consistent and up-to-date information. This inclusivity also promotes transparency and unity within the company.
If your company has multiple locations or remote teams, ensure that virtual attendance options are available, enabling all employees to participate regardless of their physical location.
Getting Out of the Company Town Hall Danger Zone
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember who a company town hall is for: your employees.
Most of the town halls I’ve attended in my career haven’t made that clear. The agenda feels like it’s more for senior leadership to pat themselves on the back or to dust challenges under the rug. They often feel like the company is desperately trying to “fix” engagement or retention issues—but not for our benefit, for theirs.
It doesn’t have to—and shouldn’t—be this way. These meetings should be for your employees. They should inform them, give them a sense of direction, and be a way to address the very real challenges that they deal with every day.
The good news is that a town hall meeting done right will improve employee morale and retention. But only if you get your motivations straightened out.
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